February 1, 2023

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Ant gets approval to expand its consumer finance business

Regulatory scrutiny forced Hangzhou-based Ant Group to abruptly suspend its massive IPO plans in 2020.

Vcg | Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING — Ant Group’s consumer finance unit has received approval to more than double its registered capital, a sign of progress in resolving regulators’ concerns.

Since the abrupt suspension of its massive IPO in late 2020, Ant has been working with Chinese regulators to restructure its business. Alibaba owns 33% of Ant, which operates one of China’s two dominant mobile pay apps.

Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded shares traded 8% higher Wednesday. Shares listed in New York closed 4.4% higher overnight.

Ant launched its consumer finance company in 2021 as part of the restructuring.

On Friday, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said it approved Ant’s request to increase the amount of registered capital for the consumer unit, to 18.5 billion yuan from 8 billion yuan.

Ant will still hold a 50% stake in the consumer finance company, according to the announcement. New investors in the other half of the company include an entity backed by the Hangzhou government and Sunny Optical Technology.

“This is a positive start of the steps that Ant Financial needs to go through [with] its restructuring process under the supervision of the CBIRC and PBOC,” said Winston Ma, adjunct professor of law at New York University.

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It remains unclear what the timeline is, if any, for a revival of IPO plans. Ant has yet to receive a financial holding company license from the People’s Bank of China. The company did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The consumer unit houses Ant’s credit businesses Huabei and Jiebei. So-called credit tech had contributed 28.59 billion yuan, or 39.4%, to Ant’s revenue in the first six months of 2020, according to a prospectus.

China’s banking regulator said the company had six months to complete the changes before the capital expansion approval became invalid.

Chinese media previously reported news of the approval, whose terms were previously released publicly.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.